Saturday, May 3, 2008

Blog #34: Of Bare Backs and Broken Bones

There are four female children living in my house ranging in age from five to ten, and so you had better believe I’m aware of the Hannah Montana phenomenon. And being an interested observer of the popular scene I’ve marveled at the money pit that wee little Miley Cyrus, the fifteen year old daughter of country singer Billie Ray Cyrus, has become. In addition to keeping her father gainfully employed (he plays her father on the Disney TV show she stars in) she has even unknowingly fostered a new industry, a computer program which snaps up concert tickets for resellers before they can be sold to the public, so that the resellers can offer those same tickets at highly inflated prices. And so under the new order an $80 ticket for a Hannah Montana concert will be resold for hundreds of dollars, for whatever the traffic of the moment will bear. And the ironic thing about it is that the Montana organization will not see a penny of this money, it all goes to the ticket resellers, who used a criminal computer program to buy up tickets before legitimate ticket buyers could get their hands on them.

Ah, but kids are still kids, even those worth many times their weight in gold. Just last week people were tsk-tsking over Miley lifting her blouse and flashing her green bra to the world. (Of course she’s proud of what that green bra is concealing. She’s female and human.) And now, the entire empire of the Disney corporation is quaking in its boots as the June issue of Vanity Fair magazine appeared featuring a very tasteful Annie Leibovitz photograph of the kid topless, though modestly hiding her naughty bits (whatever nature has afforded her in that department) behind what appears to be a satin bedsheet.

Some parents reacted with outrage. “Bonfire anyone?” hysterically wrote one Lin Burress, she of the painfully twisted knickers, on her marriage and parenting blog, Telling It Like It Is. She was referring to the mountain of Hannah Montana retail items — makeup, shoes, clothes — in the marketplace. “Parents should be extremely concerned,” Ms. Burress said in her most pontifical manner. “Very young girls look up to Miley Cyrus as a role model.” Of course the real truth is that Ms Burress is a walking, sqawking example of everything that is screwed out of whack in our society. As if the young girls of the country are going to line up to bare their topsides for the likes of Annie Leibovitz? And as if it would matter if they did?

The Washington Post had slightly more mature coverage: “In this week's celebrity scandalette, we've got Disney darling Miley Cyrus, of "Hannah Montana" fame, posing in the almost all-together for Vanity Fair. Cue the predictable outrage. See the hype machine crank into gear. Watch the spin get spun. Listen to pundits calculate the alleged economic fallout from said disgrace. Smell the hypocrisy as tabloids and bloggers grab a piece of the action, weighing in with finger-wagging judgment. . . . Cynics might see a carefully calibrated attempt to expand the Miley Cyrus brand beyond the tween demographic.

"Miley Cyrus may realize that she's not going to be able to play Hannah Montana forever," says Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. "The role of a teenage heartthrob" has an exceedingly short shelf life, he points out. "She's probably at a point where she's trying to evolve her persona, to move into Jodie Foster territory." Speaking of Foster, remember her playing the preteen prostitute in "Taxi Driver"? Hands were wrung, all kinds of outrage ensued. Didn't exactly hurt her career.”

The Vanity Fair article, written by Bruce Handy, seems to support the claim that the photograph evolved in a natural way, quoting Ms. Cyrus as saying, “Annie took, like, a beautiful shot, and I thought it was really cool. That’s what she wanted me to do, and you can’t say no to Annie.” Miley also said of the photo, “I think it’s really artsy. It wasn’t in a skanky way.”

Miley had a different view after her handlers brought her over to their point of view. In a prepared statement released on Sunday she was quoted as saying: “I took part in a photo shoot that was supposed to be ‘artistic’ and now, seeing the photographs and reading the story, I feel so embarrassed. I never intended for any of this to happen and I apologize to my fans who I care so deeply about.”

What balderdash? What in God’s name is wrong with this society? Why is the baring of one teenage back so threatening to the Disney corporate bank account and to the world of parenting, that her handlers would cause her to retract her original words in so blatant and tasteless a manner. So the child has a back, and as uncovered and photographed by Ms. Leibovitz, it turns out to be a very pretty back indeed. Is that really going to bring the Hannah Montana franchise crashing onto its knees? Cause the “bonfire” of HM products that Ms Burress so callously suggested in her blog? What is wrong with these mindless carpers? Besides having a near fatal dose of good old fashioned American hypocrisy?

We respectively suggest that the Disney corporation and Ms Burress “get lives,” and leave Miley Cyrus to hers. And Miley, sweetie, feel free to show us your bare back, and any other part of your anatomy you care to bare any time you get the urge. Remember, nudity was instrumental in making both Hedy Lamarr and Marilyn Monroe the icons they became. And the unclothed human body isn’t something ugly to be ashamed of. To the contrary, it is beautiful, has been ever since mankind left the caves and the trees and shed their fur in favor of bare skin. The Disneys and Burresses are fleeting phenomenon, but the art and the beauty of the unclothed human body will live forever.
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The people behind the West Texas raid of that polygamist compound and the forcible removal of all 464 children, are continuing to try and justify this most outrageous government abuse of power since the internment of all those of Japanese descent in World War II, by floating unsubstantiated stories about the children. First off they reported many pregnancies among teenage girls (without giving any specific numbers or ages). Since that didn’t take root they are now claiming that dozens of the children had broken bones in the past. In his ongoing CYA operation Carey Cokerall, head of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, told a Senate panel that at least 41 of the 464 children in state custody had previously broken or fractured bones.

FLDS spokesman Rod Parker called Cockerell's testimony "a deliberate effort to mislead the public." Parker pointed out that any broken bones would have been treated in medical facilities away from the ranch in Eldorado and that doctors are required to report suspected abuse.

Dr. Emalee Flaherty, a pediatrician in Chicago who specializes in child abuse, cautioned against jumping to conclusions that the children's broken bones were caused by abuse. There might be many variables, she said: a high incidence of bone disease, say, or a special diet that causes a vitamin deficiency that predisposes the group's children to brittle bones. "This is a pretty closed community," Flaherty said. She said life on a ranch might also expose children to injuries. "There are too many unknowns," Flaherty said. Dr. Bruce Perry, a Houston child psychiatrist and child abuse expert, said the type of fracture is also important. "There are certain characteristics of fractures that go with abuse," Perry said. "It would be really important to know what bone was fractured and the type of fracture."

No one at the hearing suggested that the most fractured bone of all just might be the one in director Cockerall’s hard head, though the thought may have occurred to one or two of the more cynical among us.
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And the delightfully zany Onion reports that former president Jimmy Carter is going to be tried in front of the world court for alleged peace crimes against inhumanity. "Jimmy Carter's political career includes a laundry list of anti-war-making offenses," said chief prosecutor Charles B. Simmons. "Carter's record of benevolence, diplomacy, and respect for human life is unrivaled in recent geopolitical history. For millions, the very sight of his face evokes memories of his administration's reign of tolerance." On behalf of the Bush administration, Vice-President Dick Cheney expressed regret over Carter's alleged crimes. "We are all aware of the missteps that occurred during the placid days of the Carter administration," Cheney said. "It was simply a matter of bringing the justice to light. Thankfully, the process has begun, and this chapter in our nation's history is finally being brought to a close."
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Wow things have sure changed since I went to college. Besides having our classes in trees and caves, we were stuck with emasculated administration approved newspapers and literary magazines. Evidently that is not so nowadays. Three of what my generation would have called girls, but in our present day political correctness we hasten to refer to as young ladies, three Rice students of the female persuasion, have published a literary sex magazine called Open. You read that right: literary sex. The Rice University students are Katherin Sudol, 21; Rachel Solnick, 20; and Amanda Hu, 19. Here are some of the interesting statistics they report in their first edition:

• 49.2% of students who have had sex would not change anything about their first time and 25.3% would have changed who it was with. • 28% of women and 24% of men have had more than ten hook-ups • 23.6% do not think it is necessary to be dating before having sex. •53.6% of women and 33.8% of men have never had an orgasm. • 60% believe that if a person they were interested in dating initiated intimacy sooner than expect it would not be a factor in the development of the relationship. Interesting, eh what?

There are stories of students discovering their sexuality. From one: “One thing is clear: when I fell in love with a girl, despite having loved my ex-boyfriend, I couldn’t deny the spark; I just had to redefine myself to fit with what I felt . . . Despite the cheesiness of this horrendous phrase, I go with the flow. I am attracted to whomever I am attracted to and I don’t deny myself based upon what some people dictate as appropriate . . .

Turns out that Open isn’t the only college level literary sex magazine online. “College Sex by the People Having It”, proclaims And has a discreet Web presence in keeping with its overall mission, to approach gender and sexuality “in an intelligent way people can learn from,” says JiaJia Fei, the editor and a senior at Bryn Mawr.

Open, which has essays, fiction and poetry in addition to news and photographs is available online at:, a free download is at : , click on the Download button. I wish them much luck in their little enterprise. And their magazine sure beats the artsy-fartsy literary magazines of my college days.
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Our usual way of calling attention to a story is to publish its URL so you can copy and paste it into your browser’s window. Like so: ___________________________________________________

However in this case we would like to save you the trouble, and reprint the story in its entirety. It was published as an editorial on the Sunday Opinion pages of the online edition of the N.Y. Times. It says what it has to say with elegance and force. And in our editorial opinion what it has to say rocks.

The PEN American Center, the literary organization committed to free expression, is honoring an American most people in this country have never read or even heard of: Laura Berg. She is a psychiatric nurse at a Veterans Affairs hospital who was threatened with a sedition investigation after she wrote a letter to the editor denouncing the Bush administration’s bungling of Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq war.

That’s right, sedition: inciting rebellion against the government. We suppose nothing should surprise us in these days of government zealotry. But the horror and the shame of that witch hunt should shock everyone.

Ms. Berg identified herself as a V.A. nurse when, soon after Katrina’s horrors, she sent her impassioned letter to The Alibi, a paper in Albuquerque, N. M. “I am furious with the tragically misplaced priorities and criminal negligence of this government,” she wrote. “We need to wake up and get real here, and act forcefully to remove a government administration playing games of smoke and mirrors and vicious deceit.”

Her superiors at the hospital soon alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigation and impounded her office computer, where she keeps the case files of war-scarred veterans she treats. Then she received an official warning in which a Veterans Affairs investigator intoned that her letter “potentially represents sedition.”

It took civil rights litigators and Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico to “act forcefully” in reminding the government of the Constitution and her right to free speech. The Department of Veterans Affairs retreated then finally apologized to the shaken Ms. Berg.

Even then, she noted, one superior told her it was preferred that she not identify herself as a V.A. nurse in any future letter writing. “And so I am saying I am a V.A. nurse,” Ms. Berg soon boomed out in a radio broadcast. “And some of my fire in writing this about Katrina and Iraq is from my experience as a V.A. nurse.” Thus declared Ms. Berg, well chosen to receive the new PEN/Katherine Anne Porter First Amendment Award.”

Can you believe that? I can think of no other administration in my 82 years of life on this planet that would have had the audacity to attempt to call valid opposition to its inane policies “sedition.” Even Nixon’s Merry Band seemed to harbor occasional feelings of guilt over their reaction to the virulent public opposition that was so widespread against them at the time, and so treaded relatively lightly. Sedition indeed? Dr. Joseph Goebbels (the propaganda chief of Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany) would have been proud of the reaction of this administration to opposition. I guess maybe our would be King George should be thankful that there might be at least one historical figure who would approve of his tactics. That is if he even knows who Joseph Goebbels was.

Bush’s poll numbers hit a new low on Thursday, as a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. reported Bush’s lowest approval rating in the history of polls recording approval ratings, at 28%, and with 71% of the respondents disapproving of how Bush was handling his job. That is five points below Richard Nixon’s lowest at the height of Watergate, at 33%. Is it any wonder that John McCain went to New Orleans to apologize for the Bush administration and its lack of concern and action in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, all the while promising the voters there he would never be so uncaring himself.

Can you imagine having to run on the record of this administration? What a rotten hand to be dealt? But one well deserved by each and every Republican. After all, George W. Bush was their president through and through. In 2000 they fought like lions to get him installed over Al Gore, and when the count in Florida began going against them they finally managed to accomplish their victory by Supreme Court fiat. And just in the nick of time, too. Hanging chads and all, Al Gore was well on the way to winning the Florida count when the High Court stepped in to save the day for King George the minificent.

And a belated shame on those of you nine black robed ones who from your high position reverted to being the Republican political hacks that we suspected you of being all along. Anthony Scalia in a recent 60 Minutes interview told us Democrats that we should get over our feelings of animosity towards the court and get a life. Mr. Scalia, there are those among us who will hold the ascension of George W. Bush to the presidency against you and your ilk until the end of time, for taking a peaceful and prosperous economy and ushering in eight years of war, pestilence, torture and the shredding of the Geneva Conventions, the splintering of American civil liberties as the telcoms illegally turned over their internet traffic for NSA monitoring, and finally the desecration of the American economy, in other words the whole ten yards and then some. Get over yourself, Mr Injustice Scalia.
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And from comes word that House Republicans are trying to revive a bill which give legal immunity to the telcos that cooperated with the NSA in electronic suveillance of American citizens. “U.S. House Republicans turned to obscure procedural maneuvers April 23, aiming to revive a vote on the Senate version of FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) that includes immunity for the telephone companies that participated in the White House's domestic surveillance program.

In March, the House approved a version of FISA with no immunity for those carriers. Since the House passed its version of the FISA renewal, the Senate and the House have been unable to reach a compromise. President Bush has vowed to veto any legislation that does not include immunity for the carriers. The law itself, meanwhile, has expired, although FBI Director Robert Mueller testified April 23 that he was unaware of any wiretaps being imperiled or denied since the Act lapsed.

Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, urged Democratic lawmakers to hold fast. "The House stood strong last month and we expect it to do so again," Frederickson said in a statement. "The bottom line here is that we are nine months away from a new president. There is no reason for this Congress to hand this administration a going-away present of unfettered and warrantless wiretapping."

Isn’t it interesting how under the guise of making us safer from foreign espionage Republicans increasingly whittle away at our constitution given freedoms and right to privacy. I suppose next it will be jail for the lot of us, to protect us from the bad guys. But the bad guys are here already, and they are Republicans, through and through.
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And in the latest news from the music industry a federal judge has dealt a blow to the RIAA by rejecting it’s “making available” argument in a lawsuit against a husband and wife accused of copyright infringement. In Atlantic v. Howell Judge Neil V Wake denied the labels' motion for summary judgment in a 17-page decision, allowing the suit to proceed to trial. The argument – that merely the act of making music files available for download constituted copyright infringement – has been the basis for the Recording Industry Association of America's legal battle against online music piracy.

While the couple lacks legal representation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation said it filed an amicus brief on behalf of the couple. The EFF argued against the RIAA's "making available" position, saying in a statement that it "amounts to suing someone for attempted distribution, something the Copyright Act has never recognized." Judge Wake apparently agreed with that position. "The court agrees with the great weight of authority that section 106(3) is not violated unless the defendant has actually distributed an unauthorized copy of the work to a member of the public," wrote the judge in his order. "Merely making an unauthorized copy of a copyrighted work available to the public does not violate a copyright holder's exclusive right of distribution." EFF staff attorney Fred von Lohmann called the order the "most decisive rejection yet of the recording industry's 'making available' theory of infringement."

This is quite an interesting development, for if the decision holds up it could help overturn the RIAA’s conviction of Jammie Thomas, the mother of two who lost her case and whose story we told in our blog #10. Ms Thomas was convicted and fined $222,000, which came to $9,250 per song file, with the RIAA only having to prove that she had 24 songs in a folder that could be shared. In the Thomas case the RIAA did not prove one instance of someone downloading one of her files. The decision is yet another nail in the coffin of the RIAA’s attempt to play the RICO card of blackmail and intimidation.
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The Washington Post this week asked a fascinating question. What does a president really do? If you had to put together the Help Wanted ad for the position of chief executive, what would you write? Something like: "CEO needed to supervise 3 million employees. Must be at least 35, native-born, willing to work at home. Spectacular public failures likely."

The presidency is the most famous job in America (with all due respect to Oprah), and probably the hardest. The country is currently trying to fill the position. We have three applicants still in the running. What we don't tend to do, despite obsessive attention to this contest, is talk much about what the job entails. We talk instead about hot-button issues, the latest gaffe, the new sound bite, the polls, the electoral map. Presidential campaigns glancingly deal with the institution of the presidency while focusing on the more urgent issue of winning. The closest thing we've seen to a job description on the campaign trail has been the 3 a.m. phone call ad, a caricature of the president as the national guardian, and one that still doesn't quite tell you what a president does during working hours.

"There's endless months of debating about this job and almost no public discussion of what the job is," Robert Caro, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer now working on his fourth volume about Lyndon Johnson, told me last week. "There's no other job like it. I'm sitting here watching Lyndon Johnson grapple simultaneously with riots in the streets, budget problems in Congress, are the Chinese going to come into Vietnam, what's going wrong with the model cities program, how are we going to get the funding for Head Start, what's Bobby Kennedy doing today, how are we going to blunt what he's saying?"
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And so went Blog #34. We hope you’ll come and see us again next week, same URL. And in the meantime, have a good week.

The Real Little Eddy

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